BRADEN RIVER — Every time Braden River freshman Mikala Furry walks out onto the wrestling mat, the entire gymnasium goes silent.
Fellow wrestlers, coaches and spectators stare at the 14-year-old in amazement as the realization sets in that she’s not there to cheer on her classmates but rather to compete herself.
It’s a rare sight to see a girl on a high school wrestling team’s roster, but Furry has grown so accustomed to the treatment that it no longer fazes her.
“I don’t really look at them,” Furry said. “I just try to go out and focus on my match.”
Furry is Braden River’s first female wrestler. So far this season, Furry, who wrestles in the 119-pound weight class, is 4-3 with two of her three losses coming against state power Manatee.
In her first three wins, Furry pinned each of her competitors in the opening round.
“She’s doing phenomenal — way better than most freshman will do,” Braden River coach Dane Schlick-Trask said. “She’s just another wrestler. She has great technique and skills.”
But Furry will be the first to tell you than being a girl and having a winning record doesn’t provide you with any preferential treatment.
“They treat me like any other wrestler, and that’s the way I want to be treated,” Furry said.
“She gets no special treatment,” he said. “Everything the guys do, she does — no matter what.”
Furry began wrestling when she was in second grade shortly after her mother, Susan, took her to her first wrestling match. Furry thought the sport looked fun and decided to give it a try.
She joined the Great Lakes Wrestling Club in Michigan, where she spent the next six years training and competing. But it was during her first two years on the mat that Furry realized she was going to have to earn every match she wrestled.
“My first two years … I lost every single match,” Furry said. “It kind of got annoying, I guess.”
Over the years, Furry focused more on her training and getting stronger. Furry moved to Florida at the end of last school year. At the beginning of the year, Furry had reservations about joining the wrestling team.
“I sometimes had second thoughts,” Furry said. “I was afraid I would break a bone. I haven’t broken a bone yet.”
Reservations aside, Furry has been a welcome addition to the Pirates wrestling team, which has high hopes for this season.
Not only has she provided the other wrestlers in her weight class with adequate training, but also she has helped her teammates overcome the nervousness associated with wrestling a girl.
“I was thrilled,” Schlick-Trask said of Furry joining the team. “The kids are very nervous at first because it’s an unusual situation, but now, we’ve gone to meets, and having Mikala here has made that a lot less of a unique situation.
“We’ve wrestled girls in the past; and I think it teaches the guys that there’s nothing different between a guy and girl,” he said. “If a girl has the skill and the talent, then she can compete on the same level.”
Furry has yet to wrestle another girl this season, as only a few teams in the area, including Venice and North Port, have female wrestlers. And although Furry says she enjoys wrestling boys, she admits girls possess an even more difficult challenge.
“They’re kind of both equal, but girls are a little harder because some of them actually have technique,” Furry said. “Boys tend to wrestle harder though because they don’t want to lose to a girl.”
Furry will return to the mat in search of her fifth win Dec. 16, when the Pirates take on rival Lakewood Ranch. But rather than looking ahead to the future and potential county and district championships, Furry simply focuses on each individual match and what she can do to improve.
“I just want to go out there and hopefully do as good as I can,” Furry said. “Well I guess not hope. I would say better than hope.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].